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Car Accident Lawsuit Basics

Car accidents are a leading cause of injury in the U.S., and many of these injuries and consequent deaths result in car accident lawsuits. If you've been involved in a car accident, you may have a legal claim against the person responsible. Read on to learn about car accident lawsuit basics, including the processes involved, theories of liability, and more.

Pre-Litigation Negotiation

Before filing a car accident lawsuit, there is typically an early opportunity to settle the claim. You or your attorney will communicate with the responsible party's insurer, who will often offer to settle the claim. If the offer seems fair and appropriate, you can agree to the insurer's terms and receive a payment in return for your agreement not to sue. When an agreement cannot be reached, a lawsuit is filed.

No-Fault Insurance

In states that have "no-fault insurance" laws, there is a reduced chance of litigation. In these states, your own insurer is required to pay for your personal injuries up to the policy limit unless the accidents involved drugs, alcohol, or criminal behavior on your part. This doesn't necessarily eliminate all claims.

If your insurer refuses to pay, you may have to sue them for acting in bad faith, but, by providing a streamlined method to receive compensation and eliminating argument about fault, no-fault insurance does reduce the number of car accident lawsuits.

The no-fault process sets thresholds beyond which a lawsuit is still permitted. There are two kinds of thresholds set by states:

  1. Monetary Threshold States - Only accidents where the medical expenses pass a specified threshold can proceed to lawsuit.
  2. Verbal Threshold States - Only accidents that result in specified categories of serious injuries can proceed to lawsuit.

Some states have both a monetary and a verbal threshold that need to be met before a lawsuit can be filed.


In states where no-fault is inapplicable, or where thresholds have been met, car accident lawsuits are almost always based upon a theory of negligence. Negligence occurs when a person who owes a duty of care to another person acts in a careless manner, and their actions, or failure to act, result in an injury to someone else.

All drivers have a duty to follow the rules of the road, drive at a reasonable speed, keep their car in good repair, and pay attention to their surroundings. Driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs and violating rules of the road may raise a presumption of negligence.

Contributory and Comparative Negligence

Some states apply theories of negligence that can reduce or eliminate the driver's responsibility for injuries where the injured person's actions were also negligent. These are referred to as contributory and comparative negligence.

  1. Contributory Negligence - May eliminate driver liability altogether where the victim's own negligence contributed to the car accident.
  2. Comparative Negligence - May reduce driver liability where the victim's negligence contributed to the car accident.

Comparative negligence is further divided into two categories:

  1. Pure Contributory Negligence - Permits accident victims to recover some compensation for their injuries despite their own negligence, even when they were more at fault than the other driver.
  2. Modified Comparative Negligence - Limits accident victims recovery where their fault exceeds a particular degree of responsibility. In some states the victim cannot recover where they are more than 50% responsible.

Types of Compensation

A car accident lawsuit may result in a variety of different claims for compensation. These claims may include damages relating to:

  • property damage
  • medical expenses
  • lost wages
  • pain and suffering
  • loss of affection, companionship, or consortium
  • punitive damages, where the responsible party's actions were malicious or egregious

Accidents that result in a death may also result in a wrongful death claim and associated damages.

Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit? Ensure a Better Outcome With Legal Help

Car accident lawsuits tend to involve a series of interactions with insurers even before a lawsuit takes place. Insurance companies are certain to have legal representation — sometimes a whole team of lawyers. If you're considering a lawsuit over a car accident claim, you should consider contacting a local car accident lawyer today.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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  • A lawyer can help seek fair compensation on your behalf
  • Car accident claims are complex and insurance carriers have lawyers on their side

Get tailored legal advice and ask a lawyer questions about your accident. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


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